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Human Input Channels


In this introductory section on perception, we will review the concept of modality from the neurobiological point of view [153,308], gradually narrowing the scope to those modalities relevant to research within .

As remarked by Shepherd [308], the notion of sensory modality can be traced back to the 1830s, in particular to the monumental ``Handbook of Human Physiology'', published in Berlin by Johannes Muller, who promulgated the ``law of specific nerve energies''. This states that we are aware not of objects themselves but of signals about them transmitted through our nerves, and that there are different kinds of nerves, each nerve having its own ``specific nerve energy''. In particular, Muller adopted the five primary senses that Aristotle had recognized: seeing, hearing, touch, smell, taste. The specific nerve energy, according to Muller, represented the sensory modality that each type of nerve transmitted.

The modern notion, beyond a great degree of terminological confusion, is not very much different: we recognize that there are specific receptor cells, tuned to be sensitive to different forms of physical energy in the environment and that they serve as stimuli for the receptor cells. A table in Shepherd's book illustrates the point. The table can be simplified and re-written in our framework as follows (Table 2.1 ).

Table 2.1 : An overview of input channels at the neurophysiological level

The different sensory modalities used by human beings are not processed in isolation. Multimodal areas exist in cortical and sub-cortical areas, such as the posterior parietal cortex (area 5 and 7) and the superior culliculus. The integration of the different channels is essential, among other things, for allowing the brain to reconstruct an internal body model and an internal representation of external Euclidean space [228].

Esprit Project 8579/MIAMI (Schomaker et al., '95)
Thu May 18 16:00:17 MET DST 1995